Green belt is central to London’s housing solution

Statistics show that London’s population has risen in the last 20 years by 25 per cent (1.7 million), with job growth at 40 per cent (1.6 million). Over the same period housing supply has lagged, growing at only 15 per cent. It is no surprise then, that the lack of housing supply is impacting negatively on businesses that operate in the capital. The chronic undersupply of housing in the capital is impact on businesses ability to recruit and retain staff. In July 2017, a joint research project carried out by LCCI and London Councils found that 44 per cent of firms polled said better availability and affordability of housing would assist them in recruitment.


LCCI recognises that there are numerous barriers to increasing housing delivery throughout London. Amongst these barriers is the current state of the planning system, that according to Nick Raynsford, former housing minister and now president of the Town and Country Planning Association, has been deemed “not fit for purpose” in his recent report ‘Planning 2020’. Recently, the government unveiled its draft revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for public consultation, building on the first NPPF published in 2012. As part of its consultation response, LCCI sought the views of its property and construction committee members. At the core of the Chamber’s submission was the contentious issue of the green belt which successive governments continue to rule out for development despite evidence that suggests not all green belt land is lush green fields. LCCI conducted in-depth research, in conjunction with mapping specialist FIND, into the metropolitan green belt, which identified up to 329 hectares of either derelict or disused green belt land that we defined as ‘brownspace’. This space, it was argued, could be used to build up to 20,000 homes.


This research was carried out following evidence that LCCI published within its Living on the Edge report which found that over half of London’s emergency services workers were living outside the capital, in part due to a lack of affordable homes. LCCI recognised that this posed challenges for future resilience, particularly in relation to ongoing incidents. Consequently, in its Brown for Blue report LCCI advocated that the 20,000 homes, mentioned above, be built on ‘brownspace’ land identified within the metropolitan green belt and should be utilised for the capital emergency services workers. While it is recognised that any discussion of building on the green belt is contentious, it cannot be right that those who serve London with such commitment and valour are unable to afford to live in the same city. The Chamber therefore urged the government through its NPPF response to look again at the green belt.


In addition, vital to addressing to undersupply of housing in the capital is reversing the decline of small builders whose market share in 2008 stood at 28 per cent against 12 per cent in 2015, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis. Research published by LCCI in its Getting Our House in Order report noted that there were several issues affecting small builders including; cashflow concerns, access to finance and the sluggishness and complexity of the planning system. Furthermore, boroughs throughout London lack up-to-date Local Plans which compound an already difficult situation for small builders. In its response LCCI welcomed the fact that the NPPF stressed the importance for local authorities to have current Local Plans in place, with a new requirement that these must be reviewed every five years.


The Mayor of London’s draft new London Plan, published in November last year, set an ambitious target of building 65,000 new homes annually to meet demand.  This would represent a substantial 100 per cent plus increase on what has been delivered each year for the past decade. With the capital’s housing crisis very rarely out of the news, it is essential the planning system, integral to housing delivery, is fit for purpose. The NPPF must recognise the scale of the challenge and be bold in its approach to addressing chronic undersupply of housing, not least through a fresh look at the role of the capital’s green belt. An absolutist position on protecting the green belt, whatever the evidence says and based on the false premise that all green belt is of equal value, does no good to Londoners, particularly young Londoners and our emergency service personnel, who are being priced out. The revised NPPF provides an ideal platform for an honest reassessment of the green belt. Any discussion making mention of ‘building’ and ‘green belt’ is contentious. But limited intervention, with suitable safeguards, to make best use of poor quality and undesirable land to help house London’s emergency workers is right.

Simon Dishman, Policy Manager,LCCI

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